In a country that isn’t known for its progressive politics, male-to-female transsexual Anna Grodzka is proving to be a political trailblazer.
The 57-year old, who completed her sex change last year, could become the country’s first transsexual parliamentarian after her party, the Palikot Movement, earned a surprising 10% of all votes during Poland’s Oct. 9 election. Poland operates under a party-list proportional representation system in which parties are allocated parliamentary seats based on the proportion of votes the party receives. Because the Palikot Movement has earned an estimated 40 seats, and because Grodzka is at the top of the party’s candidate list in Krakow, she will likely earn a spot in the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament.
“I’m not yet sure if I’ve been elected, but I’m very happy with the result scored by the Palikot Movement,” she said Sunday evening at a celebratory election party held in Warsaw. “If I’ll be elected in Krakow, I’ll be Poland’s first transsexual, and the only transsexual MP not only in Poland, but the entire world.” Georgina Beyer became the world’s first openly transsexual member of parliament in 1999 when she won election in New Zealand, but her term expired in 2007.
Grodzka and her supports are waiting for all the votes to be counted before declaring victory, which could be done as early as Tuesday morning. “We’re 85% sure of her win, but we don’t want to jinx ourselves,” a colleague at Trans-Fuzja, the transgender rights group Grodzka founded, told TIME on Monday morning.
It’s difficult to quantify attitudes towards Poland’s transgender community, but activists say they face a hostile environment in a country where 96% of residents identify as Catholic. Attitudes toward the gay community, which is more easily accepted than the transgender community, underscore the difficulty a transsexual candidate like Grodzka would have faced during the election. The 2007 PEW Global Attitudes Survey found that just 45% of Poles believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society. That lags far behind other Catholic countries like the Philippines, where 64% of people responded affirmatively, and Spain, where 82% of respondents did. Other European countries including France, Germany and Sweden all posted figures higher than 80%.
Grodzka, a trained clinical psychologist, believes her potential election signals a new day for marginalized groups across the country. “Today, Poland is changing. I am the proof along with Robert Biedron, a homosexual and the head of an anti-homophobia campaign who ran for office in Gdynia,” a city on Poland’s northern coast. But Grodzka’s campaign was about far more than gay rights. During the election she campaigned on a platform of raising the minimum wage, improving the availability of nurseries and kingergartens, and encouraging a greater division of church and state by stopping the flow of public funds to religious organizations.
William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.